This is a review of our Fantasy Western cruise 1/4-1/11/2014. We are a family of 4, with two boys ages 9 and 4. We have previously sailed on the Carnival Dream (Eastern, January 2012), and Allure of the Seas (July 2013). Because our Allure of the Seas experience was only 6 months prior to our Fantasy sailing, I was very eager to compare the newest/largest Royal Caribbean (RCCL) ship with Disney’s newest and largest ship. I will comment on that throughout the review.
We embarked on 1/4/14. The weather was absolutely freezing in Orlando the day before but embarkation day was not terrible. Too cold for most adults but many kids were enjoying the pool that afternoon and sail away was fine. The announcement of the family when boarding is nice, definitely makes you feel special. Staff were very welcoming and nothing but helpful throughout the cruise.
We arrived at the port at 10:45 a.m. We were on board before noon. It was easy to get checked in for the kids club in the terminal prior to boarding - we never waited at all. We went to Cabanas for a very nice lunch and then hit the pools. I highly recommend having your children dressed in their swimsuits when boarding and letting them swim before the rooms are ready. The pools opened at 1 p.m. They were never less crowded than during that early afternoon in Port Canaveral.
The lobby was still decorated for the holidays during our sail week, and the open atrium/lobby is beautiful, as was all of the detail all over the ship. But with that said, after sailing Allure we felt a bit underwhelmed by the Fantasy. The main difference is that Allure has multiple huge indoor and outdoor “grand” areas for gathering and hanging out. The entire aft of Allure is open to the Ocean, including the bars and aqua theater and rock walls, and the public decks on both sides aft, as well as the entire Boardwalk area. Mid-ship there is Central Park, open to above. Then the entire Royal Promenade deck (Deck 5) with so many venues and large open area for parades and other activities. The only comparable places on the Fantasy are the main atrium and the pool deck. The Atrium is beautiful but it is just not big enough to accommodate the flows of people between dining seatings, particularly on formal nights. Felt quite crowded and chaotic before and after the seatings and during some of the popular princess character greets. But I was very impressed with how many characters were all over the ship all day.
The pool deck when compared with Allure is just ridiculously tiny and crowded. Obviously I am not the first one to make this observation, but I cannot believe the size of those pools and deck compared to the number of people (and families) on board. On sea days it was just wall to wall bodies. Cabanas and Remy/Palo take up the entire aft area of the top deck, and then the forward area is the relatively underused adults-only area, leaving only a small space for the pools. By contrast, Allure’s pool deck area is enormous and has many different pools, splash areas, hot tubs and bars. The hot tubs on the Fantasy were a joke, way too small and crowded, and barely warm.
We did enjoy the aqua duck and the other slide. But one observation - I wish they did not make children take off their life jackets to ride the Mickey slide. I wanted my child to have his life jacket on at all times just in case (I am still following the saga of Chase Lykken, the 4 year old who nearly drowned last year), and I had to keep removing the life jacket so he could ride the slide. Once I missed him coming off the slide and instead of coming over to me he tried to get in the Donald pool and did not have his life jacket on. We spotted him right away but it was scary and I did not want him to be without his jacket anywhere on the pool deck for just that “split second” scenario. We also were disappointed that the Mickey Slide always closed by 6 p.m., but in aqua duck was open until 9 or 10 p.m. Many smaller children are too short for the aqua duck so it would be nice if both slides were open later. I highly recommend riding the aqua duck at night to avoid the crowds. It is fun but not worth waiting 45-60 minutes to ride.
We had a Category 7A (basically a 5A with an obstructed view verandah), Cabin 9652. We got this cabin for about $700 less than the cheapest Category 5 room. The verandah obstruction was not a big deal at all - barely noticeable (high, on the right side). Your view was only obstructed if you were standing on the very far right of the balcony. This cabin was a real bargain and I would absolutely book another 7A on the Fantasy. As for location, I would choose a different cabin because this cabin door actually opened up to the aft stairs and while that was convenient, it was very loud and you did not have as much privacy when opening your door. There also was a MidShip detective agency location right outside the cabin door so lots of foot traffic and noise there until late into the evening. But we did love being 2 flights directly down from Cabanas. Every morning we just ran up there and got food and brought it back to the cabin. Much easier than worrying about finding a table during morning rush.
As most people know, the Disney cabins are larger than RCCL cabins and are set up with the split bathroom that better accommodates a family of 4. There is a curtain to partition the King bed from the rest of the room, which was nice. Our older son slept in the pullman bed and the 4 year old slept on the couch bed. Overall the room was adequate for us. It would have been nice to have the larger Cat. 4 with slightly more storage and space, but I’m not sure it is worth much extra money unless you have 5 people.
We had early dining only because the family we were traveling with preferred this. If we do another Disney cruise we will do late dining - 5:45 is just too early for us to eat, particularly after having a big lunch or having snacks in the afternoon. At home we normally eat around 7/7:30. I did the miss the lack of anytime dining on RCCL. Every day of the cruise is different - sometimes you eat a late lunch, sometimes a late breakfast, sea day vs. active port day, etc. and I prefer being able to eat when we want, not being locked into a particular dining time, neither of which is ideal (8:15 is a bit late for such heavy dinners).
Food quality was generally excellent and better overall than RCCL. I was consistently impressed with Cabanas - every meal had “special” food that was beyond the normal buffet fare you would expect. Lamb chops, sushi, crab legs, etc. etc. Everything was excellent in Cabanas and the venue is beautiful, with plenty of room for everyone. The main dining rooms were all beautiful. My favorite was Animator’s Palate. Our dining rotation started with Enchanted Garden and we were in Royal Court 3 times. If I had my preference I would request the rotation with Animators for 3 nights.
I was pleasantly surprised at the price of drinks. I thought prices were very reasonable and there were a lot of special prices too (like $3 Bloody Mary in the morning). The most expensive drinks were the martinis in the Skyline Lounge, but they were craft cocktails and very strong, and we got the “passport” there which was 7 drinks for the price of 6 during the week and they gave you the cocktail menu at the end.
We ate one night upstairs in Cabanas because of timing issues. It was fine but fairly empty so it did not feel as special as the dining rooms. It was on the prince and princess menu night. I thought that menu was the weakest of the 7 nights.
We were lucky to experience Palo brunch and Remy dinner. Both were absolutely first class experiences that I highly recommend. Remy is very pricey ($75, which includes a champagne cocktail at the beginning) but well worth it. Service was unbelievable, as was the food. I would do that again, it was truly special. For alternative dining, I would choose the Prince and Princess night (Night #4) for that as my first choice.
The chicken fingers offered all week on the pool deck (at Flo’s) were the best I have ever had. I kept craving them!
Overall this is where I really enjoyed RCCL Allure more than the Fantasy. We saw all of the main shows. I did love the option of seeing the show in the afternoon on sea day because that freed up the evening. The shows were well done but obviously they were completely themed toward kids/Disney characters and were a bit cheesy. There is nothing wrong with any of the shows and people seemed to really enjoy them. But Allure of the Seas offers shows that appeal to families, as well as many adult shows. For example, Allure has an ice show, the Aquatheater diving show, and the Cirque-like show in the main theatre. But also has Chicago, the Headliner show, the Comedy show, and other smaller live entertainment. I love Disney and Disney entertainment, but I don’t necessarily want that night after night. If we did the Fantasy again we would probably skip most of the shows. This is not to say that there was anything wrong with them, I don't want my comments to be misinterpreted. I just do not need to see more than one similarly-themed Disney show per cruise and would likely not need to see any of them a second time.
LOVED Pirate Night - that was a highlight for me. Lots of fun, and the fireworks overhead were amazing.
The two 9 year old boys, 7 year old girl and my 4 year old all really enjoyed the kids’ club. The only negative that I found with it was that the food offerings (for dinner in the club) were extremely limited. Maybe that is not as big of a thing on Disney because most kids go to the MDR? On RCCL they take the kids up to the buffet if they eat with the kids’ club, which was a nice option. Overall big thumbs up on the club.
My 4 year old developed a horrible canker sore and needed to get a mouth gel. We did not have to wait long once we got in there, but keep in mind that the infirmary hours are very limited. It would be closed for long blocks of time during the day (like 10-1) so plan accordingly.
We had bad weather during a good part of the cruise, including a VERY rocky night after leaving Grand Cayman The crew said it was only that bad every other month or so on average. Fortunately nobody got seasick, but we were unable to dock at Costa Maya (a bummer, I was looking forward to trying out Tropicante, where we had reserved beach chairs with Steve and the food sounded great).
Grand Cayman was great - we arranged our own tour through Captain Marvin’s. If you contact him you can book the special tour he does for Fantasy passengers because it is only a 1/2 day port. I HIGHLY recommend being one of the first one off the tenders so you can get to the meet up at Captain Marvin’s (easy walking distance) and maximize your time. The 2-stop tour took us first by van to the boat, then out on a boat to the Stingray Sandbar which was AMAZING, lots of interaction with the rays and cool photos. Then we got some time to snorkel at a nearby reef. Really nice tour and very affordable ($38 for adults).
We sailed into a huge headwind and docked overnight at Cozumel. It poured and was fierce wind in Cozumel and many excursions were cancelled. We had arranged for a taxi for hire for the 9 of us (us and the other family we travelled with) and we ended up touring the island and going to the ruins (San Gervais). It was cool to see the ruins and the kids were mildly interested, but I would not book an excursion there with kids. It was nice to be with our own driver and not have to wait for an entire busload of people. That was pretty economical and easy to arrange online. Google Tours Plaza and Cozumel Driver for the Day. Very reliable.
We got lucky that CC day was the nicest day of the cruise. We really enjoyed the island, although the snorkeling was not great (not much to see, other than the shipwreck which is WAY out). It was relaxing and fun and there seemed to be enough chairs. We went to the far beach close to the entrance to the slide.
Not really warm but warm enough to swim and enjoy the beach. I have done two January cruises and had weather issues and rough seas both times. Rain and rough seas can happen, but the colder temperature were enough to keep me from cruising again that time of year - I will stick to summer!
The Fantasy was a great experience and we would sail DCL again if we got a decent price. However, if given the choice between another cruise on Allure or Oasis of the Seas and another on the Fantasy in the Caribbean we would do Allure or Oasis (we are sailing Oasis this July). I have nothing bad to say about the Fantasy, but the ship is just not as much of a “wow” as Allure/Oasis and I felt like RCCL did a better job providing both family-friendly AND adult experiences. There is never a lack of characters (obviously Dreamworks, not Disney) and other kid-friendly experiences on board RCCL, including character breakfasts, parades, kids’ movies, and a great kids’ club. But that is balanced with a much bigger variety of bars, nightclubs, live music, jazz clubs, comedy, and the casino, particularly at night. The adults area on the Fantasy is a smallish area that felt a bit like an afterthought on the cruise as a whole, although several of the bars were nice - Skyline Lounge was my absolute favorite venue on board. The Fantasy obviously is a ship where the vast majority of the focus is on families, with adults-only stuff being a minority of offerings. Allure, on the other hand, felt like an adult ship where there was a ton of family offerings. For us the balance just worked better on RCCL. Although I am a huge Disney fan and my husband and I have had Disneyland Annual Passes since before we had kids, I would not choose Disney Cruise Line if we had the opportunity to travel just the two of us.
So that is my review! I hope it was informative.